The Arch of Constantine

The Arch of Constantine is hard to miss if you are visiting the Forum, the Colosseum or the Baths of Caracalla. It is situated to one side of the Colosseum in what is officially Via Triumphalis – the arch stands alone and is impressively huge, as one might expect from a monument to celebrate one of the Roman Empire’s best known emperors.

Constantine began his reign in 306AD alongside three co-emperors, including Emperor Maxentius, whom he defeated to rise to being sole emperor.  The other two emperors were Licinus and Maximinus. Constantine the Great, as he is known, ruled the area of Spain, France (Gaul) and Britain. Maxentius ruled what we now know as Italy and Libya – Julius Caesar had created the area known as New Africa in 46AD. Licinus ruled Greece and Macedonia – and Maximinus, Middle Eastern countries, including Syria. After Maxentius was defeated in battle in 312AD, the consensus of opinion was that Constantine was the natural ruler of the Western Roman Empire – Hispania, Gaul and Britannia – and he became sole emperor.

Constantine is also known for supporting Christianity – the  city once known as Byzantium was renamed in his honour. We now know the city as Istanbul, where east and west meet across the Bosphorus Strait.

Route to the Colosseum
Via dei Fori Imperiali – just to the right of the Colosseum is the Arch of Constantine
Marble bust of Constantine, Capitoline Museum, Rome

The Arch of Constantine was dedicated in 315AD and became the triumphal arch all Roman emperors passed through. The best place to view it and take photos is either from the Temple of Venus in the Forum – or from the upper tier of the Colosseum, after you have passed through the Colosseum’s  museum.

The arch was the final one to be built in Rome and re-uses in its decoration artwork from previous works. The inscription also charts Constantine’s success at the Battle of Milvian Bridge against Maxentius, who drowned in the River Tiber during the battle. His body was recovered and decapitated, his head being part of a victory procession through the streets of Rome.

It is soon after this that Constantine began to convert to Christianity. The Romans tended to worship a whole range of Gods, from well known deities like Venus and Apollo, to household gods of the hearth called the penates (pen-ar-tays) and the Vestal Virgins, who were keepers of home and hearth.  The Forum is full of temples to the ancient Roman gods – some of them are better preserved than others, however.

It is said that Constantine and his troops received a vision from God which instructed them to decorate their shields with the first letters of Jesus Christ’s name as it would be written in Greek (Chi-Rho). However, the Arch does not bear any signs of Christian influences in its decoration – and at the time, the style of architecture and decoration was changing, so it is considered something of a pastiche of other periods and styles.

Decoration on the Arch of Constantine

It remains, however, well preserved and one of the most recognisable and striking monuments in Rome. There are further arches in the Roman Forum, including those dedicated to Titus, Tiberius and Septimius Severus. Some commentators are even of the opinion the Arch of Constantine started life as the Arch of Maxentius. However, it is one monument in Rome that is unmissable and instantly recognisable.


The Arch of Constantine next to the Colosseum


Images copyright A.Meredith 2017/2018 


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4 thoughts on “The Arch of Constantine

  1. Your data is inaccurate. Constantine remained a Mithra-worshiper. His famous arch, which celebrated that victory of Maxentius–the one in which he told his troops of a “vision” of the chi-ro, the sign of the cross–under which they would have victory–that symbol as well as any other Christian references are curiously absent from the arch. Mithraic symbols, however, are visible on it. It is said of him that he became a Christian; he pretended to Christianity because he could see the geo-political writing on the wall. He used shills who were specifically invited to Nicaea as being anti-Judaism, and who didn’t mind throwing both Jews and their properly Torah pursuant believing brethren–who constituted the majority of assemblies of the time–under the heel of Rome (only 200-to at most 300 of the nearly 2,000 existing assemblies were represented at Nicaea).


    1. Thank you for adding to the debate. Generally it is thought he embraced both but is seen as being the first Roman Emperor to embrace Christianity, as his mother did, while still continuing his Mithras worship. Some people believe Christianity and Mithras worship are two sides of the same coin. But adopting a religion for political expediency is still adopting it, even if it is for a less spiritual purpose. All religion and belief systems have a controlling element which can be exploited. The Mithras Temple in London is worth a visit. It is beneath Bloombergs, fount of all knowledge.


      1. Wow. Adopting a religion for nothing but geo-political reasons is okay. Spoken like a true sell-out. Some people believe…–yeah, well, we have the word of the Almighty on that. He USED the power-hungry to advance the empire. He needed to galvanize the outliers who had embraced this Messiah into his reign. And you think that’s okay? For your Savior to be used like that?


  2. Actually, my mistake – you are not interested in history, only trolling. Unfortunately history does not alway reveal politically correct intentions, but neither have you. All emperors are power hungry – it comes with the territory. Just as you are hungry to be recognised as an expert at my expense. Most people who crave power are somewhere on the psychopathic spectrum, from trolling people online to building an empire. I am surprised you have not got that far in your reasoning, but then there is little reason to your arguments and no sense of an understanding of history, or of how perceptions change throughout history. History is constantly being reviewed and even Emeritus professors will argue the toss over what happened, why and when and whether it should have happened. What happened millennia ago has to be viewed in the light of that period, not the enlightened thought we have today. It is not my fault if you disagree with it. As to religion, the Romans worshipped many gods, so Constantine running with Mithras and cosying up to Our Lord Jesus also would not be so unthinkable. With every new belief system there are transitional periods, which can be bloody and prolonged and sometimes never resolved. Unfortunately, it is too late to do much about Constantine and what he did or did not do – he’s dead and so is his empire and by now he has met his maker, whoever that turned out to be. Go and do something about Trump – or some of today’s despots killing million of people. That would be more useful to mankind, but I have a feeling being useful is not your aim in life. Intellectual and moral superiority is, it appears. However, Constantine is my ancestor – don’t expect me to keel over and show you mercy if you get your arguments in a twist or fail to comprehend how to approach history. Trolling people on WordPress is not really politically correct, either, and yet you are quite happy to do that. If you don’t like my blog, don’t read it. Those are the general rules of online engagement. It is not as though I am exhorting people to do what my ancestor did . I am talking about a lump of antiquity in the shape of an arch which is of historical interest to help tourists visiting Rome understand a little more about what they will see. I am not attempting to write a research paper – or raise an army and build an empire. Although, now you come to mention it…


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